Jamie Bell, Chris Evans and company on board the drifting train Snowpiercer.
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It's some kind of miracle that Snowpiercer was ever released - and it was worth the wait

Despite its occasional longeurs and lapses of logic, post-global-freeze thriller Snowpiercer is an intoxicating mishmash of stunts and ideas which deserves to be seen in UK cinemas.

In Montreal earlier this week, and seeking respite from the chewy heat, I ducked into a cinema that was enticing for two reasons. Of course, there was the air conditioning, which would have earned any picture 17 stars, nine thumbs up, one cry of “Masterpiece!” and a tin-foil medal even before the lights had gone down. But the choice of movie was significant too: Snowpiercer. Even if you know nothing of this much-discussed movie, the title promises crisp and replenishing refreshment. (There was no way I was going to see again the Indiana Jones trilogy, much as I admire it, which was playing in new prints at the same multiplex. Smashing films and all, but too hot. Too clammy.)

Fortunately the movie itself turned out to be a tonic. Set on an all-but-dead version of earth, scarcely 20 years into the future, the action is confined to a train so long that most people have never traversed its entire length. Since an experiment to reduce global warming backfired, freezing the planet and killing off most of its population, a band of survivors have sought refuge on this train, “Snowpiercer”, which is the creation of the enigmatic Wilford (Ed Harris, returning to the kind of puppetmaster part he took in The Truman Show).

The high-altitude train makes one revolution of the globe per year and runs on an engine that can never die. But all is not well. A brutal social hierarchy is maintained on board, from the mistreated proles in the rear carriage, who dine on black jelly of unknown provenance, to the upper class in the front sections, who have their own nightclub, hair salon, school and ecological sanctuary. Travelling back to the UK in the Economy section later that day, the film remained vividly in my memory. Can’t think why.

Revolution is in the air, and the man to lead the masses is Curtis (played by Captain America himself, Chris Evans), along with his sidekick Edgar (Jamie Bell) and the guru-like Gilliam (John Hurt). The obstacles before them include the terrifying Mason, a grotesque and hilarious Northern schoolma’am with Deirdre Barlow’s glasses, Jeanette Winterson’s vocal chords, and gnashers three sizes too big for her gob. The character could only be more pleasurable if she were played by Tilda Swinton. Guess what? She’s played by Tilda Swinton.

I loved the mix-and-match nature of the casting, tone and story elements: it seemed to reflect the segmented train itself, where parts that should not by rights be adjacent to one another are bolted together all the same in a rinky-dink fashion. The director is Bong Joon-ho, best known for his demented monster movie The Host. The sensibility is a combination of steampunk, Guillermo del Toro, early Jeunet and Caro (Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children), Lars von Trier’s Europa and some US science-fiction movie or other gone gloriously off the rails (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension perhaps). It is far from flawless—there are too many longeurs and lapses of logic that impeded its progress along the way—but it is alive with ideas and imagination which see it across the occasional piece of imperfect track.

It is some kind of miracle that it got out. Though it nearly didn’t. With Harvey Weinstein in charge of the US rights, the journey from script to screen was never going to be a simple one. He ordered 20 minutes of cuts to the finished film, as well as a new prologue and epilogue; when Bong refused, the US release was limited to only a handful of cinemas. (VOD—video on demand—was also used as a weapon against the film. If a new release is available also in VOD, that restricts severely the number of US cinemas that will screen it, as was the case with Snowpiercer.) It still hasn’t opened in the UK, though it was screened recently at the Edinburgh Film Festival. It has been much on cinephiles’ lips for a while now. I failed to see it at the Berlin Film Festival this year when its two showings sold out in minutes, and no press screenings were made available. (I know what you’re thinking. How can such a situation exist? Feel free to write to your MP.)

I’m not happy that such an original film had such a difficult infancy. But when I saw that it was playing in Montreal, I experienced a twinge of excitement—I’m pretty sure it was that, and not a trapped nerve—that is fairly uncommon these days. Not because I’m a jaded individual whose appetites are sated by minions at the merest click of my fingers. Well, not only that. But when everything is available around the clock and all the time, it does us no harm to be denied instant gratification. I’ve had to wait a while to see Snowpiercer—yes, I know there are international DVDs available, but I didn’t want to watch such a big movie on an itsy-bitsy screen. That gave the experience an extra dimension. It didn’t make the film better than it was, but it reminded me of the value of what Frank N Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show calls “antici……………….pation.”

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

Scott Cresswell on Flickr via Creative Commons
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Podcasting Down Under: Tom Wright on how Australia is innovating with audio

The ABC producer, formerly of the Times and The Bugle, makes the case for Australian podcasting.

In September last year, Ken Doctor wrote that “We can mark 2016 as the year the podcast business came of age.” Statements like this have been coming thick and fast since the first series of Serial dropped in October 2014. We’re either living through a golden age of podcasting, or the great podcast advertising boom, or the point when podcasting comes of age, or some combination thereof. For the first time, everyone seems to agree, podcasts are finally having their moment.

Except this isn’t the first podcasting gold rush. Tom Wright, now a producer for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), was there the first time media organisations rushed to build podcasting teams and advertisers were keen to part with their cash. Speaking to me over Skype from Australia, he said that seeing podcasts attain “hot” status again is “very strange”. “The first iteration had similar levels of excitement and stupidity,” he added.

In 2006, Wright left BBC Radio 1 to join the Times newspaper in London as a multimedia producer. The paper was “very gung ho” about using podcasts, he explained, particularly comedy and sport shows, as a way of reaching new audiences. There, he launched The Bugle with comedians Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver, The Game with football writer Gabriele Marcotti, and a number of different business shows. “This was ahead of the crash of 2008,” Wright noted.

The shows found large audiences almost immediately – “in my time, The Bugle had 100,000 weekly listeners,” Wright said – and The Game (plus periodic special podcasts pegged to the football, rugby and cricket world cups) brought in good sponsorships. Both podcasts and the videos that Wright also worked on were seen by the Times as “an add-on to the main deal” – ie, the paper’s news stories and features.

“Podcasts, especially in comedy, are still kind of seen as a marketing exercise for something else. . . My feeling is that a lot of comics – let's just pick on one country – in America, say, do a podcast and it's not particularly funny or good, but they flog their tickets for their tour relentlessly so you come and see the really good stuff.” Wright, however, saw the podcast form as something more than a marketing exercise. “My feeling was that we had this opportunity to do comedy, and maybe make it a bit more ambitious, you know?”

It all changed after the financial crisis of 2008, when the advertising money dried up. A new boss came in at the Times and Wright said the focus shifted to online videos and a greater emphasis on hard news. “Amazingly, they let The Bugle continue, which is fantastic,” he said.

(For long-term listeners of The Bugleof which I am one – Wright is a much loved presence from the first 100 episodes. He is referred to solely as “Tom the Producer” and used to chip in regularly to try and keep Zaltzman and Oliver to time, and to express his disgust for the former’s love of puns. Listeners used to write emails for the show straight to “Tom”, and he has his own section on the slightly bonkers Bugle wiki.)

Wright left the Times and moved to Australia in 2010. That year, the paper had introduced a hard paywall, and Wright said that he and other colleagues felt strongly that this wasn’t a good idea. “Who wants to be writing or making stuff for 5,000 subscribers?” he said. “It was also a cost of living decision for me,” he added. “I'd been living in London for ten years with my wife, and we did the sums and just realised we couldn't afford to live in London if we wanted to have kids.”

Wright tried to keep producing The Bugle from Melbourne, a decision which he now describes as “insane”. “It was around 2am [Australian time] when they started recording,” he explained. “I was using my in laws’ Australian-speed wifi, and because I was uploading huge reams of data to the Times, they got stung with an enormous bill. I thought maybe this is a message that I should seek some local employment.”

Wright joined the ABC and went back to live radio, producing for a call-in programme on a local Melbourne station, before moving over to triple j – a station he describes as a bit like BBC Radio 1 in the UK. It was hard work, but a great introduction to life in his new country. “The best way to learn about Australian culture and the way of life was being at the ABC,” he said. “It's the most trusted organisation the country has, even more so I think than the BBC in relation to Britain, given all the scandals recently.”

After the success of Serial, he said he remembers thinking “are podcasts back now?”. “The Nieman Lab in America came out with a journalism survey about reader engagement, and it said the average interaction with a video is one minute, the interaction with a page is almost ten seconds, and with podcasts it's 20 minutes. That was just this eureka moment – all these people thought wow, that's an aeon in online time, let's try doing this.”

In Australia, Wright explained, as in the UK and elsewhere podcasts had been “just the best radio shows cut up to a vast extent”. But in 2014 publications and broadcasters quickly moved to take advantage of the renewed interesting in podcasting. He is now part of a department at the ABC developing online-only podcasts “that will hopefully feed into the radio schedule later on”. It’s a moment of unprecedented creative freedom, Wright said. “That sense of risk has been missing from radio, well media, for a long time. . . Like at the Times, we’re told ‘just go do it and come back with some good ideas’, and it's fantastic.”

Wright is focusing on developing comedy podcasts – as “Australian comedy is great and criminally underrepresented,” he said. One show that has come out of his department already is The Tokyo Hotel, an eight-part series following the inhabitants of an eccentric hotel in Los Angeles. It’s a great listen: there’s a lot of original music, and the fast-paced, surreal script feels at times reminiscent of Welcome to Night Vale. “It was hugely gratifying but immensely hard work,” Wright said. “It had its own score, numerous actors, a narrator who was Madge from Neighbours. It was quite literally a big production.”

The plan for 2017 is to bring out another, similarly ambitious production, as well as “a couple more standard ‘comedians chatting’ things”. Australians are already big podcast fans, and Wright reckons that enthusiasm for the form is only growing. “I think that Australia is a place that's not afraid to embrace the new in any way,” he said. “Podcasts are a new thing for a lot of people and they're really lapping it up. . . It's very curious because I think in Britain anything old is seen as valued, and the new is sometimes seen with suspicion. It's almost the exact opposite here.”

Five Australian podcasts to try

Little Dum Dum Club

Comedians Tommy Dassalo and Karl Chandler run a charming weekly interview show.

Free to a Good Home

Michael Hing and Ben Jenkins, plus guests, chat through the weird and wonderful world of Australian classified ads.

Let’s Make Billions

Simon Cumming and his guests aim to launch a new billion-dollar startup every week.

Meshal Laurie’s Nitty Gritty Committee

The commercial radio host shares the stories she’s been most surprised and moved by.

Bowraville

Dan Box, the crime reporter at the Australian newspaper, investigates the unsolved serial killings of three Aboriginal children.

Do you have ideas for podcasts I should listen to or people I should interview? Email me or talk to me on Twitter. For the next instalment of the New Statesman’s podcast column, visit newstatesman.com/podcasts next Thursday. You can read the introduction to the column here.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.